UC Berkeley Department of Film and Media

Department of Film & Media UC Berkeley

Courses / Undergraduate

Spring 2017

R1B - 005 | CCN: 15151

The Craft of Writing - A History of Shadows: From Noir to Neo-Noir

Justin Vaccaro and KC Forcier

4 Units

This course fulfills the second part of the Reading and Composition requirement. We will continue to work on writing analytical, argumentative papers but with an added emphasis on research, both doing research – from generating research topics to locating and evaluating sources – and writing research papers which will integrate and correctly cite sources in support of your own original and provocative claims.
Our subject this spring is the most mysterious of genres, the film noir and its successor neo-noir. The classic era of film noir was the 1940s till the late 50s. Yet, during that time the term, even the idea of film noir didn’t exist. Hollywood filmmakers considered themselves to be making mysteries, psychological thrillers, melodramas, and crimes films. It was critics after the fact (first in France and then in America) that noticed something new that bound these disparate films together: A proliferation of shadows and dangerous urban landscapes; an existential, cynical view of the world; a focus on corruption, betrayal, and violence; downbeat endings, and poisonous glamour.
But is it a genre? Unlike Westerns, Musicals, and Sci-fi films there is no defining element to point to in every or even most noir films (though there are noir Westerns, Musicals, and Sci-fi films). Yet the idea of film noir quickly took hold of both filmgoers and filmmakers. It is, appropriately, an obsession. And since the mid-1960s it has spawned its own ‘genre’ neo-noir. To this day the noir style has maintained its influence and attraction particularly in the films of Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, and many others.
Our course will pursue the elusive idea of film noir through viewings and analyses of some of the classics of the genre. We will then explore its lasting influence on cinema through a sampling of neo-noir films from around the globe. Throughout, we will consider these films as both responding and contributing to their historical moment. What questions are these films an answer to?
Constructing answers, and finding new questions will be the tasks of this course. Students will focus in on the specific audio-visual details of the noir, connecting this evidence to the world outside of the film. In so doing, students will learn the essentials of performing academic research so that they grow comfortable synthesizing a wide range of theoretical lenses and conducting original research across venues, be they libraries, databases, the Internet, or in archives.
Our course about the dark but appealing world of film noir will give students the tools necessary to craft nuanced arguments which embrace ambiguity, ultimately allowing them to thrive within an academic setting and beyond.